Where to hide your data center and protect it from damaging natural disasters?
I have built two data centers in the Raleigh, North Carolina. I traveled to Raleigh about once per month over a couple of years for these projects, many times driving in ice storms. It’s really quite fun to drive around when everything is coated in a sheet of ice. It’s like driving a Zamboni without an ice rink. Quite frankly, only people like me who have too much confidence in their driving abilities drive—everyone else stays home and for good reason as many cars are stuck on the roads and crashed up while driving in these conditions. Recently, storms in the Raleigh area caused a wide path of “death and damage” as reported here in the NY Times–declaring emergencies throughout North Caroline, Mississippi and Alabama. More extreme weather is predicted for the eastern seaboard with the ever-increasing climate change. Hurricane frequency and strength has increased several times over the last few years. Remember when one good hurricane a year was normal? Now it’s dozens, so much so, that the naming convention has changed completely from alphabetical names to female names to including male names and now numbered names similar to star systems.
Remember when California was the only place we expected to receive large earthquakes? Well, except for Japan, which reminded us once again of the devastation that can occur being along the Pacific Rim. I was in middle Baja following the recent Japan earthquake and had to change plans due to a tsunami warning from the Japan earthquake nearly 10,000 miles away, proving the point that near the ocean following an earthquake can be risky.
The largest earthquake in 35 years hits Arkansas…what you ask?! Arkansas? Yes, the largest in that state yet amongst more than 800 earthquakes in Arkansas since September 2010. Wow!! You can read more about it in this AP/Yahoo news article.
But even more spectacular–as I bring up earthquakes in Arkansas as merely an example–is that the largest risk of large-scale damage from an earthquake in the US is located right under the middle of the US, the New Madris Fault. Directly under Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Tenessee, Missippii, Arkansas, this baby is HUGE! With an ability to create horizontal acceleration of 1.89g, almost 5 times greater than the amount of ground acceleration at The Reno Technology Park near Reno, NV, which is located on stable ground absent of any earthquake faults. See this thesis on the affects of earthquakes on bridge design, which is the pinnacle of civil engineering for earthquakes, as they look at 75-year affects, not 20 as it is for most building construction. Even Texas is not immune to earthquakes. Having damaging earthquakes in 1882, 1891, 1917, 1925, 1931, 1932, 1936, 1948, 1951, 1957, 1964, 1966, 1969, and 1974. Many of these being felt as much as two states away from Texas, which covers a very large area. I type out all of these just to prove the point that even areas thought to be immune from damaging earthquakes have them, and more frequently than we care to remember. You can read more in this USGS article about Texas earthquakes here.
And thus the punch line is to consider data center site selection very carefully. Just because an earthquake has not happened for a long time does not mean that an area is not immune to a damaging earthquake. Check out this map of large earthquake potential and look at the two large circles of converging lines in the middle of the US and under South Carolina—these are the areas of greatest earthquake threat to public and buildings in the US:
How about volcanoes? Sure why worry unless you’re in the South Pacific, Hawaii or Costa Rica, right? Wrong. Over half of the world’s active volcanoes are in … did you guess…. The good ‘ole US of A. That’s right. Most of those are in Alaska as the Aleutian island chain is a pretty exciting place to be. And most of the them in the Continental US are located in Washington and Oregon. But guess what, the most exciting place in the US for a very damaging earthquake of proportions 1,000’s of times greater than the atomic bombs exploded on Japan to end Wrold War II? Wyoming. Yellowstone has been famous for Old Faithful. Heated by a geological hot spot, the same type that has created and is still creating the Hawaiian Islands. But new research calls it a supervolcano. Two of the larger eruptions from this supervolcano produced 2,500 times more ash than Mt St. Helens eruption in 1980, and that provided about 10’ of ash through eastern Washington and elsewhere. And this hot spot is getting hotter. Expected to impact Idaho, Wyoming and Montana with a greater frequency of earthquakes and a possible very large explosion that could wipe out a very large area. Read more about it here.
Why are these important to point out? Because we’ve designed and built data centers to withstand the impacts of what we EXPECT in a certain area, yet so many areas have more impacts than we imagined. Which leads me to site selection. Site selection isn’t so easy as to look at what has recently occurred or what we think might occur in an area; it should involve thorough research and understanding of what really are the risks over time and choose a site that best meets our risk tolerance/”comfort” during the life of the data center. And any risks should be reviewed, even those that seem unlikely, as we can see from many of these examples, that unlikely events can turn out to be devastating to any data center. Hence, location research is paramount to good site selection and these issues not overlooked. A good example is the over 20 active volcanoes in the Portland and Seattle area. Be aware of the risks in your decision or it could lead to a really bad day.